What is Aspiration?

One example of aspiration is when a person vomits and part of the vomit enters their lungs.
A pathologist looks at the aspiration sample under a microscope to diagnose the infectious agents at work.
Urine samples are sometimes extracted through aspiration.
Individuals suffering from aspiration pneumonia may produce a crackling sound from the lungs.
A person may risk aspiration if they lose consciousness due to alcohol consumption.
Aspiration can be very dangerous for seriously ill patients who have been placed on a ventilator.
A chest X-ray may be conducted to diagnose aspiration pneumonia.
A drug overdose might lead to pulmonary aspiration.
Enteral feeding may be used to decrease the risk of aspiration in patients with vulnerable airways.
Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2015
  • Copyright Protected:
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The term “aspiration” is used in two different medical senses. In the first sense, it refers to pulmonary aspiration, in which people suck foreign bodies into their tracheas and lungs, or have foreign bodies blown in, as for example by a ventilator. In the second sense, aspiration is a type of medical procedure in which matter is sucked up or out for removal. The meaning intended is usually clear from the context.

Pulmonary aspiration can be very dangerous. One form of pulmonary aspiration can occur when people vomit and part of the vomit enters the lungs. People can also inhale food or drink, or inhale foreign bodies such as dust in the air. Inhaling foreign bodies causes irritation to the delicate tissues in the lungs, and may lead to inflammation and a condition called aspiration pneumonia. Treatment for patients who have aspirated something depends on what it is and other factors.

The risk of aspiration is the key issue behind why people are advised to refrain from eating before general surgery. The concern is that the patient might vomit during surgery or immediately following, and she or he could be at risk of aspirating some of the vomitus. Aspiration is also a concern when people fall unconscious as a result of drug overdose, injury, or alcohol consumption, which is one reason why people should not be left alone in these situations.


Aspiration as a medical procedure can be done in numerous ways. In an aspiration biopsy, for example, a needle is used to access a fluid for sampling and the fluid is sucked into the needle by pulling the plunger. This technique might be used to get a clean urine sample from the bladder, to pull a bone marrow sample, or to retrieve fluid from an abscess. Aspiration may also be used to clear mucus from the nose and mouth, to remove blood from a surgical site, or to clear buildups of fluid in the body.

For some aspiration procedures, the patient may receive anesthesia because it can be painful. In other cases, no anesthetic is required. For example, a doctor using a bulb syringe to clear mucus from the nose of a baby doesn't need to provide analgesia because the procedure should not be painful, while a doctor taking a bone marrow biopsy needs to use anesthetic so that the insertion of the needle is not excruciating for the patient.


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Post 2

@Azuza - Yes, food aspiration during surgery is very undesirable. Like the article said it can lead to aspiration pneumonia which is very unpleasant. After surgery the immune system is already weak so introducing any kind of infection can be very dangerous.

Post 1

I've always wondered why they tell people not to eat before having surgery! It sounds like more torture added to an already stressful situation but now it makes so much more sense. Surgical aspiration sounds pretty dangerous so I can see why doctors try to prevent it.

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